UX & Service Designer for Connected Products

Reflections on Mobile UI Design (Part 2 of 2)

Category : Blog Post May 19, 2010

Following up with my previous reflections on my experience from being an interaction designer in Motorola, here are some additional thoughts:

Mobile makes it emotional
It is hard to disagree that mobile devices have become part of our identities. By carrying and displaying our mobile devices in public everyday, the brands, forms and screen treatments have become part of our faces to the world. The user interface has the biggest share of user’s attention on mobile devices. However, thinking and practices in mobile interaction design have not move beyond usability and information design.

Designers in the fashion and CMF (Color, material and finishing) industries have for a long time considered emotions evoked by colors in their work. Every year, color standards company Pantone nominates a color of the year. The description of this year’s color, Turquoise, reads like this:

Combining the serene qualities of blue and the invigorating aspects of green, Turquoise evokes thoughts of soothing, tropical waters and a languorous, effective escape from the everyday troubles of the world, while at the same time restoring our sense of well-being.

The selection of Turquoise reflects its emotional influence in our collective state of mind. I am not suggesting UI designers to start relating our work to dreamy landscapes and new age music. However, I am advocating mobile UI designers to start pushing the boundary of our thinking beyond usability best practices and consider the characters of our designs against the ones that our end-users wants to project. For example, instead of just talking about whether a UI is learn-able, intuitive or compelling (a replacement of ‘sticky’ in the 90’s), we should also consider and evaluate whether the UI helps a user project confidence or provides relaxation.

Design should be diplomatic instead of democratic
Yes, ‘Design by committee’ happens large companies. It happens every day and designers complain even more frequently. The reason for which it happen is the very thing that large companies hire designers to produce — change.

Designers create changes for a living and most of us love changes. Changes mean creation, opportunities for improvements or refreshment to an existing solution. However, we are often unaware and insensitive to financial, technical and psychological impact of change to our work partners in the company. Broadly speaking, businesses rely on reaching stable goals and optimizing processes to increase profitability. Changes, especially changes for un-proven results, disrupt both of those cornerstones. ‘Design by committee’ are often put in place to dampen such impact. ‘Design by committee’ sometimes appear as a ‘Stakeholder Meetings’ mid-way through a project that includes people who’ve never been involved in the design. It can also appear as a ‘Quality Review’ that measures qualities that are either undefined or too broad to align with the design goals (e.g. be effective).

Affording some rigor to rationalize changes imposed by design and filter out impractical ideas is not a bad practice. The problem comes when members of the committee have not been bought into the reasoning behind the solution and they have no experience in scaling a design. Compounding to the problem, designers often are unable to rationalize their solutions in the audience’s language and have no idea how the value proposals of their solutions change when they are scaled. That combination lead to animosity between designers and the committee. At the end, both work relationship and integrity of the idea suffer.

It is the designers’ job to carry ideas to solutions, however difficult it is. In addition to evangelizing the practices and benefits of good designs, UI designers also need to learn the point-of-view, methods and languages of our business and technology partners. We can only be more effective if we are confident and capable to articulate our ideas with them and bring our brightest ideas to the market. After all, what good are ideas if they only live in Powerpoint?


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